Music, College and Life After

A number of my cello students are approaching that age of decision. They are rising juniors and seniors in high school and are being bombarded with that “what are you going to study in college/do with the rest of your life?” question.

For me, I wrestled with a few possible careers. I had three things I was debating at that time in my life. They were biology, journalism and music.

I had a kick ass biology teacher. I was not a huge fan of the maths and sciences (more of an art and English student), but I loved biology for some reason. Mrs. Lankford was to blame for most of it. Come senior year I took AP Biology (instead of AP Physics like most of my “smart” classmates). I did great on the AP exam (4!) and Mrs. Lankford took me aside and encouraged me to go into biology and consider becoming a teacher or the like. I briefly considered it, but too much math.

Journalism and writing was something I loved (and still do). I had been writing newspapers since like 2nd grade, and senior year was an editor of my high school paper (sports section!). I think the final deciding factor to take me out of communications was my lack of self-confidence. I wasn’t pretty enough to be on TV. (Remember, there was no internet in 1996 – at least no facebook, google or youtube. Dial up your AOL Nirvana fans!)

So that left me with music. I loved playing in Youth Symphony. I was already teaching private lessons at the local music store and loving it. So music education made perfect sense.

But this isn’t about me. What do you want to do, fair student? Most of my students have come to me saying something like, “I don’t want to major in music, but I want to keep doing it.”

So far, I’ve had a future vet, a future computer programmer, and a future engineer tell me this. And I have the answer: the music minor.

As I explained tonight, you don’t “do” anything with it. You study music, get to play in the orchestra (or whatever ensemble is appropriate), take lessons, learn some theory and history, and get out of whatever stuffy building your major is in to hang out with the completely awesome and fun music majors for awhile. Trust me, music majors have A LOT more fun than engineering majors. (And music majors, if they’re smart, will latch onto engineering majors knowing that they’ll make more money than a music major one day. And if they happen to be musical as well, then SCORE! No pun intended…)

Okay, maybe I didn’t get into the social aspect with my high schoolers, but they’ll figure it out.

But seriously, music can be a great stress relief and a chance to broaden your horizons. And being able to complete additional classes with your major always looks good to potential graduate schools/employers.

And of course, when all is said and done, you can continue playing in a community ensemble. When I got out of graduate school I started working in an office to pay my bills while I worked up my private student teaching load. After about 9 months I realized something was missing from my life. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. For the first time since 5th grade I wasn’t playing in an orchestra. And I missed it. Google in 2004 was a little more advanced, and I was able to find 3 community orchestras in greater Louisville. And I started playing with two of them. One I quit after about a year as my teaching load increased, but I stuck with the other until I started having kids in 2010 and my husband started working nights. I filled in occasionally, but definitely missed it.

Just this month, my husband starting day work after 6 years (and 3 kids) of being on nights. I immediately went back to my orchestra. It seems like a little thing, but to me it’s huge. Orchestra has been a huge part of my life. Granted, my kids are now, too, but being a mom doesn’t mean you give up yourself. If you do, you have nothing to share with your kids. I want my kids to go see mommy play in concerts just like I saw my mom play in concerts. It’s a family tradition.

So, can you still do music if you don’t major in music? HELL YES! So keep on playing!

What is Suzuki? (Not the motorcycles…)


I get this question a lot.


Suzuki is a method of teaching music that can be used with students of all ages, but is especially effective for children ages 3-6. For children, it also requires the active participation of a parent or caretaker to be truly effective.


As the owner of a music school and a parent, I understand that all parents believe their toddlers to be amazingly gifted. And they are. Babies and toddlers have unending potential and learn amazingly quickly (especially things you don’t want them to learn).

Starting at age 3 your child is eligible to start Suzuki lessons. We ALWAYS recommend that you check the credentials of any teacher you are considering, and only use a teacher who has taken Suzuki Teacher Training courses, not just someone who “uses the books.” There is SO much more to Suzuki lessons than you can get out of the book. To date, here’s the list of courses I’ve taken:

Every Child Can
Early Childhood Education Level 1
Violin Book 1
Violin Book 2
Violin Book 3
Cello Book 1
Cello Book 2
Cello Book 3
Cello Book 4
Suzuki Principles in Action

Each course requires a certain amount of class time and a certain amount of lesson observation time all with a certified teacher trainer. When I started my training in 2005 you could actually tell which of my students I started before training and ones I started after. There was that much of a difference. Just having a music degree, or music training, doesn’t necesarily make you a good private lessons teacher. There’s no classes in music school that teach you how to be a good lesson teacher. And unless you specifically get a music education degree, you don’t even take any education classes as a music major. (And of course the education classes are geared toward classroom teaching, not private lessons.) Because of this gap in a music degree, I have found all my teacher training to be invaluable. So much so that I help fund teachers who work at Notable Beginnings and are interested in Suzuki Teacher Training.

As a parent you need to know that a Suzuki Teacher has this specialized training, and knows how to apply it, especially to young children. Suzuki training involves learning about how preschoolers and young children learn and specific games to play to keep them involved. This is why the training is so important. You want to make sure your child gets started on the right foot, otherwise they may end up hating music because of the bad experience. Not all teachers are cut out for young children with short attention spans.

There are many different styles of Suzuki Teachers. I classify them as “hardcore” and “modified”. Personally I am modified, but can be as hardcore as the family wants. Most American families today are too busy to be hardcore Suzuki families.

Hardcore Suzuki lessons require daily practice and listening in addition to weekly private and group lessons. The parent is also required to be in the lesson and learns what the teacher is doing. The parent is then expected to be the home teacher and assure that the student is doing things correctly every day at home. It’s a big time commitment. BUT you get out what you put in. These students are usually fantastic players in a relatively short amount of time.

Modified lessons are less time consuming, but of course, progress is often slower, especially if there is not daily practice and listening. Also, often in modified lessons, a parent doesn’t always sit in, so you don’t have that accountability at home, either, which can also slow progress (especially in the case of a preschooler who won’t remember what they are supposed to practice once they put their instrument away).

Honestly, though, no matter which path you choose, the outcome is the same. The child will learn to play the instrument.

I hope this (relatively) brief spiel was helpful. I’m happy to explain anything further!

My Time in Youth Symphony

In an attempt to go semi-chronologically here, I thought I’d talk about my time in the Kansas City Youth Symphony (7th grade-12th grade, or 1991-1997).  They have a website now! (Websites didn’t exist when I was in it.)

I auditioned at the end of my 6th grade year when I’d only been playing cello about a year. I was at first turned down becuase I wasn’t quite ready, but then they started a younger string group (I think that was the first year of the Junior Orchestra, later renamed Symphonette) and I was accepted into that. Then going into the 8th and 9th grade I played in the Middle (Philharmonic), and then for 10th grade I made Senior (Symphony). At the end of my junior year, I actually auditioned on both viola (which I had started playing about 4 months prior when I got one for Christmas) and cello. My plan was to play viola in Middle and continue on cello in Senior. Imagine my surprise when they put me on viola in Senior! Here i was playing Suzuki book 3 stuff and was given the full orchestra part to Symphonie fantastique. I took lessons (Thanks Carl Cook) and muddled my way through some pretty impressive literature. Actually, all 3 years I was in it I muddled my way through impressive literature.

It’s hard to know where to begin explaining what an impact that Youth Symphony had on me. Without it I probably would have dropped out of school orchestra (too boring), which would have been horrible in retrospect as that’s where the majority of my good friends in junior high and high school came from. I also made some AWESOME friends in youth symphony – people that I am still friends with on facebook. They are people I would not have met otherwise.

I also would not have practiced nearly as much, as I HAD to practice my youth symphony music or face Dr. Block’s wrath. (Which I did anyway – “can’t either of you Harris’ count??” after my brother and I both managed to mess up Der Rosenkavalier.)

It also made me aware of what “real” music was. The first piece we worked on at start up camp when I made senior orchestra was Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. I fell in love. I had no idea what real music was until I started learning that. It made such an impact on me I even did my 10th grade joint English/Social Studies research paper on Shosatkovich and loved learning all about his compositional style and run ins with the communist government. (Little did I know then that I would eventually get a graduate degree in musicology. It all makes sense now.) During the 3 years I was in that orchestra we also did Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 or 5 (I did one in YS and one in college…), Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 (Organ), Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, Sibelius Symphony No. 1, Stravinsky Firebird Suite, among a myriad of concerti and overtures, and of course the yearly Concert for Champions horse show (at which we always did the 1812 Overture). I have youth symphony to thank for me flooring my Music Lit teacher in college. We were talking about Symphonie fantastique and he mentioned it was written in 1833. I raised my hand and said, “Really? It sounds more like Tchaikovsky, late 1800’s. 1833 isn’t that long after Beethoven.” Needless to say he wrote me a GLOWING recommendation for graduate study in musicology.

I also got to go on 3 wonderful trips thanks to youth symphony, including my first trip out of the country. In 1995 or 1996 we went to Banff (in Canada) to play at a festival. I had an amazing time. Then, in 1997 I got to play in Carnegie Hall (and tour New York City, of course). It was a trip I will never forget. The following year, even though I was in college already, the symphony was asked to send some musicians for a youth orchestra to play in Carnegie Hall. They needed violas, so I volunteered (as I was still 19). (Thanks to my brother for still being in the orchestra!) Another amazing trip.

So, did youth symphony have an impact on my life? Yes. Just a few months ago I got all kinds of excited when the community orchestra I’m a ringer for called and asked me to play on their upcoming concert and told me they were doing the Organ Symphony. Who gets excited about stuff like that? Orchestra nerds, that’s who! Would I be a music teacher today without having been in youth symphony? It’s hard to say, but my guess is no. Chances are I would have gone into journalism or biology out of high school.

And I’d probably be making more money now, but wouldn’t be nearly as happy with my job. 🙂